“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE LOST SYMBOL by Dan Brown

I’ve damned Dan Brown fairly liberally in these pages in the past, not least by lumping him in with John Grisham and James Patterson as some kind of unholy trinity that gives crime writing a bad name. So I wasn’t expecting much when I was commissioned to review THE LOST SYMBOL, although I did crack the pages with as open a mind as I was able to muster. And whaddya know, it was fun. Hokey, schlocky fun, for sure, but fun. Is there room in the world for fun books? God, I hope so … Anyway, herewith be the review:
“If you’re out to describe the truth,” Albert Einstein declared, “leave elegance to the tailor.”
  Elegance may be at a premium in Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ but there is – theoretically – no end to the truth to be uncovered by symbologist Robert Langdon when he gets sucked into an anti-Masonic conspiracy set in Washington, D.C.. Called to America’s capital by his good friend and mentor, the high-ranking Mason Peter Solomon, Langdon quickly finds himself in possession of a coded pyramid and pursued by the CIA. Decoded, the pyramid promises knowledge of the Ancient Mysteries the Masons have for centuries hoarded on behalf of all mankind; but Mal’akh, a sinister, tattooed eunuch, is determined that mankind will never experience true enlightenment.
  Unsurprisingly, ‘The Lost Symbol’ offers many of the features that made ‘The Da Vinci Code’ a phenomenal best-seller. The story takes place over a few hours; short chapters and teasing cliff-hangers create a propulsive momentum; the twists and turns are drip-fed in the form of information dumps by the polymath Langdon. Word games, secret societies and global conspiracies all figure, with Langdon, by turns hapless and brilliant, something of a flesh-and-blood philosopher’s stone who transforms the apparently blind alleys of Washington D.C. into the shimmering glories of Classical Rome.
  The prose is clunky, certainly, and Brown has an irritating penchant for italics, while the excessive use of exposition makes a mockery of the dictum, ‘Show, don’t tell’. The storytelling is preposterously melodramatic, and all but very few of the characters appear to have been borrowed from wherever it is they store the Bond villains who weren’t quite villainous, insane or megalomaniac enough to make a worthy adversary for 007. That said, there’s no denying that the story is as addictive the next cigarette. You know it’s not good for you, and you’ll probably feel bad afterwards, but hey, one more hit won’t kill you …
  If the backdrop to ‘The Da Vinci Code’ was largely based on ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’, the backbone of ‘The Lost Symbol’ is Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Tao of Physics’. Here Brown seeks to blend the mysticism of Far Eastern, Egyptian, Classical and early European societies with the latest advances in quantum physics and the ‘metaphysical philosophy’ of noetics. He invokes a number of eminent scientists – Newton, Spinoza, Bohr – in the process, although none are more name-checked (or misrepresented) than Einstein, who spent the latter part of his career in a fruitless attempt to justify his claim that God does not play dice.
  It’s an entertaining romp, if you’re prepared to ignore some of the more outrageous assertions about the links between, say, the Upanishads and string theory, but there is a crucial difference between ‘The Lost Symbol’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’. In the latter, Brown was taking aim at one of the western world’s most sacred cows. Here he is bent on rehabilitating the reputation of one of its most tarnished icons, that of America itself. Whether that perverse spirit of anti-iconoclasm is sufficient to drive ‘The Lost Symbol’ to sales of eighty million copies remains to be seen. – Declan Burke
  This review first appeared in the Irish Times

Friday, September 18, 2009

Here Come The GIRLS

Crikey, there’s no stopping Squire Declan Hughes. ALL THE DEAD VOICES hasn’t so much as been nominated for a triumvirate of awards (lest we forget, THE DYING BREED, aka THE PRICE OF BLOOD, is up for a Shamus at B'con next month), and already his new novel is ready to go. The fifth in the Ed Loy series is called THE CITY OF LOST GIRLS, and finds Loy back where it all began – for Loy, certainly, but also for Loy’s spiritual ancestors, Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer – for what sounds like a wandering sisters job. To wit:
In LA there’s a killer on the loose. He kills young and rootless girls and he always kills in threes. Back in Dublin, Ed Loy, happy in a new relationship, is reunited with Jack Donovan, a film director friend from LA with a turbulent personal history. When the third young female extra fails to show for work on Jack’s movie, Loy begins to suspect Jack. And when the previous victims of the ‘Three-in-One Killer’ are discovered in LA at locations Jack used for his movies, Loy’s suspicion hardens.
  Loy flies to LA to liaise with the LAPD on their investigation. He must find something in his and Jack’s shared past that can point to the killer, and hope against hope that whatever he finds will point away from his old friend.
  And then, when he finally unearths the truth, it looks like it may be too late. Back in Dublin, the ‘Three-in-One Killer’ has broken his pattern, broken cover and struck at Ed Loy where he is most vulnerable. Time is not on Loy’s side as he mounts a desperate fight to outwit a ruthless psychopath and save the last of the lost girls …
  Don’t know about you, but my money’s on the boy Loy. He’s a hardy one, that Ed …

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: THE COMPLAINTS by Ian Rankin

‘WHO DECIDES right from wrong?’ runs the strap-line on Ian Rankin’s latest novel, and the answer, of course, is Ian Rankin. The pre-eminent UK crime writer of his generation, Rankin is the author of 24 novels, 17 of them featuring Edinburgh’s Inspector Rebus (now retired), as well as collections of short stories, novels published under the pseudonym Jack Harvey and the non-fiction Rebus’s Scotland: A Personal Journey. Along the way Rankin has won numerous prizes and earned an OBE.
  Doors Open (2008), his first standalone thriller in over a decade, was first published in serial form in the New York Times , while A Cool Head was published earlier this year as part of the Quick Reads project.
  The constraints of the serialised story are such, however, that Rankin fans are anticipating The Complaints as Rankin’s first true post-Rebus novel. Its protagonist is Malcolm Fox, head of Edinburgh’s Professional Standards Unit, which operates under the aegis of complaints and conduct. In layman’s terms, Fox leads a team dedicated to internal affairs, investigating police who bend or break the rules.
  The novel opens with Fox, shortly after copperfastening his case against Glen Heaton, a notoriously shady copper, being charged with the covert investigation of Jamie Breck, a colleague of Heaton – Breck’s credit card details have shown up on an Australian website trading in child pornography.
  Once he has taken on the case, however, Fox’s professional life – in tandem with his personal life, in which his sister’s boyfriend has been murdered – starts to unravel at an alarming pace, even as personal and professional concerns begin to mesh.
  As is usually the case with Rankin, the plot is more layered than a tiramisu and here offers a depth that incorporates the impact of the credit crunch and the subsequent collapse of property values in Scotland.
  Fox, as befits the protagonist of a dyspeptic police procedural, quickly finds himself squeezed by an unholy alliance composed of big business, corrupt coppers and the criminal fraternity.
  The pacing is deceptively sedate, which is appropriate to Fox’s investigative style – a taciturn and self-reliant loner despite his position as head of a unit, and a divorcĂ© who has issues with alcohol, he is nevertheless decent, dogged and cautiously thorough.
  While the story itself has plenty of twists and turns and features the kind of detailed, unflattering depiction of Edinburgh that Rankin’s fans have come to expect, there is a growing sense of ennui, even as the story’s gathering momentum provides a page-turning quality.
  Moreover, the plot hinges on a gamble taken by Fox and Breck’s foes, a gamble that is predicated on a rudimentary psychological evaluation. For a writer of Rankin’s quality, this is a ruse akin to deploying a deus ex machina and it lacks the power to bring the various strands together with his customary cohesion.
  By the end the abiding feeling is one of disappointment that Rankin, with his reputation and (presumably) fortune already secure, wasn’t prepared to take more chances in terms of style, subject matter or narrative.
  That The Complaints delivers what Rankin’s legions of fans have come to expect is undeniable, but it’s also true that those fans are entitled to expect more from one of crime writing’s standard bearers. – Declan Burke

  This review first appeared in the Irish Times

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Stop Now, Just When We’re Hating It?

Gosh, Dan Brown, eh? Bless his cotton socks. As Norman Mailer once said of Jack Kerouac, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” Or words (and people) to that effect. Anyway, never mind the symbollocks – the sixth, and Eoin Colfer’s contribution, in the increasingly improbable Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy is coming to a mostly harmless planet near you. To wit:
You may not have noticed, but there’s something stirring in the Galaxy…
  Despite the efforts of the Vogons, and even those of a more-than-typically troubled teenager, the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy continues, much to the delight of its fans (and to the annoyance of the Vogons).
  AND ANOTHER THING, the 6th book in the Hitchhiker’s trilogy, or rather ‘double trilogy’ as it has now become, has been written by the brilliantly funny Eoin Colfer, international number-one bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl novels. Colfer is not unaccustomed to strange going-ons and far-fetched story-lines with his celebrated Artemis Fowl novels. Widow Jane Belson said of Eoin Colfer, “I love his books and could not think of a better person to transport Arthur, Zaphod and Marvin to pastures new.”
  Douglas Adams himself once said: “I suspect at some point in the future I will write a sixth Hitchhiker book. Five seems to be a wrong kind of number, six is a better kind of number.”
  Colfer, a fan of Hitchhiker since his schooldays, said:
  “I have decided to embark on a very different project. Something unique that I hope will interest you as much as it does me. I have written the official 6th book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series. Most of you have probably already read Douglas Adams’ insanely brilliant space series. If you haven’t then you don’t know funny. Take it from me, the Hitchhiker books are bar none the funniest sci-fi books ever written. People have laughed so much reading Hitchhikers that they have had to have organs removed. One guy in France popped an eyeball. I kid you not.”
  “So, what’s it all about, this Hitchhikers, I hear you cry. Actually I don’t hear you, if I did I would be sitting outside in your driveway, which would be a bit freaky and show how few friends I have. What’s it all about, this Hitchhikers, I imagine you cry. It’s about Arthur Dent, one of the last humans left alive after the Earth has been destroyed by the remorseless Vogons. Arthur manages to hitch a ride on a spaceship and go planet-hopping with his friends Ford Prefect, the Betelgeusean journalist. Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed president of the galaxy, pirate and worst dressed man in the universe, and and Marvin, the paranoid android.
  “All this hitching and adventuring went on for five books and then Douglas Adams passed away before he could write book six. Hitchhiker has been heard on radio, seen on TV and enjoyed on the cinema screen; there was even a musical version. But the story could never end, until now. I am going to continue on where Douglas left off.
  “Unfortunately for me, he left off on rather a large cliff-hanger. Everyone was dead. Which means I have rather a large challenge ahead of me, but it is one I am looking forward to.
  “The book will be out later this year. It will be called AND ANOTHER THING. And I really hope you will board the spaceship with me so we can travel through Douglas Adams’ hilarious galaxy together, which will save me having to hang around in your driveway.
  “See you at Barnard’s Star.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

CRIME ALWAYS PAYS: The Early Word

Dana King, long a friend of this blog, has been kind enough to review your humble host’s forthcoming Kindle-published novel CRIME ALWAYS PAYS over at the New Mystery Reader, with the gist running thusly:
“Few books in recent memory have been as much fun to read as Declan Burke’s THE BIG O. The sequel, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, is a worthy successor … The end result is a little like what might be expected if Elmore Leonard wrote from an outline by Carl Hiaasen … Devotees of strictly laid-out police procedurals or cosies may find CRIME ALWAYS PAYS a bit pell-mell for their taste; Burke’s not writing for them, anyway. [It’s] about the flow, the feel, the dialog, the interactions among characters, not knowing who’s working with—or against—who, the feeling that anything might happen at any moment. It’s as close to watching an action movie as a reading experience can be.”
  Which is very nice indeed. Thank you kindly, that man …